Ballinamore objections to 130 refugees ‘can be comprehensively addressed’

Local group says asking the village to take in over 15% of its population almost overnight is ‘bordering on criminal’

Objections by locals in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, to the arrival of up to 130 asylum seekers and refugees which has led to public protests "can be comprehensively addressed", the Department of Justice has said.

Over 350 people attended a meeting on Sunday to debate concerns about the plan revealed last week to house asylum seekers at newly-renovated apartments in the town, offering “own door self-catering accommodation”.

Some 30 protesters, including some local business owners, on Monday started a “silent demonstration” outside the apartments wearing high-vis vests and carrying “No to People Traffickers”, “System Failure” and “Community not Compounds” placards.

In a statement the Ballinamore Community group said the Government should begin a programme of “proportional provision”, and share refugees and asylum seekers around the State, saying the plan for their town was “bordering on criminal”.

"Ballinamore will take its fair share, but asking a village to take in excess of 15 per cent of our population overnight, or over a period of weeks, is totally unacceptable," said a spokesman for the group Gordon Hughes.

The local auctioneer told the Joe Finnegan Show on Shannonside Northern Sound that a pledge made by the Cork developer who owns the apartments to invest €30 million in the town in a series of property investments was a "publicity stunt" and a "smoke screen".

Public meeting

Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan, who will attend another public meeting in Ballinamore on Thursday, said he "can understand the concerns that are expressed" about schools, childcare and medical services.

Calling for more consultation between locals and the Department of Justice, Senator Feighan, who will contest for a Dáil seat in Sligo-Leitrim, said: "We have been here before with Ballaghaderreen and Rooskey and other places across the country.

“Maybe there is a better way of informing the local communities but again this is too early, and I would like to sit back, have the meeting with the Minister, and articulate all those views across a table.”

He also claimed that Minister of State at the Department of Justice David Stanton has told him that 130 people would be arriving, but only on a staged basis over the next six weeks and none before Thursday's scheduled meeting.

He hoped that in future more consultation could take place with local communities.

Government policy

Looking back 15 years, Mr Hughes said Ballinamore had an asylum centre that never brought any issues, while one woman who lived in the centre had gone on to run a very successful business in the town.

"We have seen in Oughterard and Rooskey and elsewhere this seems to be Government policy that people are just informed overnight, and we're basically left to just deal with it and try help integrate these people when they relocate."

He said every community in the State should take "a proportionate amount of people to live and work among us" to ensure that Ireland meets its international obligations. "We were quite annoyed about the lack of public consultation."